I think the only hockey I dislike more than preseason hockey is the hockey played between the time that the Leafs clinch a playoff spot and the actual start of the playoffs. Other than Matthews hitting the 40 goal mark, there isn’t a storyline left, and we’re left collectively holding our breath whenever we see something like the Nick Foligno injury last night. At least with the preseason we’ve been deprived of hockey so long that we’ll take what we can get, but here we are 52 games down, and nothing left to do but clinch first in the North, which should happen soon. Anyways, here are some stray thoughts in the dog days of May.
Nick Foligno needs to sit
I don’t know the extent of his injury, whether he was held out precautionary, or whatever, but the time is now to get Foligno as close to 100% as possible before the playoffs. Shutting him down now would give him close to weeks to rest up for the playoffs, and even if he requires a game or two to start the playoffs off, I think you give it to him. There are plenty of players like Engvall and Brooks who have shown a willingness to step up, and I’m sure the Leafs wouldn’t mind another look at Nick Robertson as well. Not to mention that seeing what Toronto has in Joey Anderson wouldn’t be a bad thing either.
If we want to go really nuts, how about getting Stefan Noesen into a game? A physical bottom six player might not be a bad thing to have in the lineup when 3 of the 4 remaining games are against potential playoff opponents.
Is Winnipeg playing bad enough to rob us of the Montreal vs. Toronto series?
The original six matchup that hasn’t been seen in the playoffs since 1979 might have to wait, at least another round. The horrific slump that the Jets have embarked on looks to have them on a path to being the first round matchup for Toronto.
Given the Leafs ability to dominate the Jets, and outmatch them physically, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing. There’s always the worry that Connor Hellebucyk will goalie the Leafs, but given that Winnipeg doesn’t have much else going on for them beyond Hellebucyk, that still might not be enough to keep the Leafs out of the second round.
The Leafs could still Montreal in the second round, as they’ve been a team that has played favourably against the Oilers, and seeing Montreal and Toronto play for who moves on to represent Canada in the Conference Final would be a lot more meaningful. Plus, who doesn’t want Edmonton knocked out in the first round?
Play David Rittich
Let’s assume at this point that Frederik Andersen isn’t going to be in the regular season lineup. It seems reasonable to assume at this point. And even if he is healthy enough to play, maybe they’d rather just give him a conditioning game with the Marlies. As for Campbell, maybe you put him in one more time, that previously mentioned game against Ottawa makes the most sense, and you let David Rittich have three of the next four starts.
Besides resting the probable starters, there also needs to be some consideration given to the fact that Andersen might not be ready and not the best option for the playoffs, in that case having David Rittich as comfortable as possible playing behind the Leafs seems like a good thing.
He might not be the best goaltender, but let him serve a purpose.
Conference Finals or Bust
The Leafs are presently 5-2-1 against Montreal, they are presently 6-3-0 against the Jets, and they are 6-1-2 against the Oilers. The Jets and Habs have the opportunity to make it closer than it appears right now in the remaining games this season, but the reality is the Leafs are heavy favourites against whomever they will face in the North Division playoffs. While getting out of the first round of the playoffs has jokingly been the goal for this team for the past two seasons, there needs to be some consideration to where the bar is actually set for this team, and there needs to be some consideration given to the actions for what happens if the expectations aren’t met.
While it’s nice heading into the playoffs with a high level of optimism, there’s also no ignoring that Leafs fans have been hurt by this team that has been great on paper more than once. Strangely enough, I choose optimism and don’t think it will come to the Leafs having to deal with the fallout of another playoff disappointment, but hopefully there are some repercussions if I’m wrong.
Ending on a high note
I certainly don’t want to end on the idea of the Leafs prematurely exiting the playoffs, so let’s focus on something happy. The Leafs are playing well and they still have Zach Hyman, Riley Nash, and Zach Bogosian to add to this roster when needed. Adam Brooks has come out of nowhere and established himself as depth center who has chemistry with Jason Spezza, and Joe Thornton, and it seems that Pierre Engvall wants to make it a tougher decision to sit him as well. Having Sandin look NHL ready and then some and Liljegren looking the part as well has the Leafs in a very different situation than previous playoffs. Not only do they have a good team, they have a team that is adaptive to their opposition and they aren’t locked into one look that teams will have scouted to death.
The next four games might not be the most exciting time of the year, but it’s hard to not be excited for what is coming after that.